When you open Magic of Lies, you’re greeted with praise for Joyce Gee’s debut novel, which, while not outright comparing it to the works of George R.R. Martin, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Sarah J. Maas, makes the inference when saying it deserves to share space on a bookshelf with their works. I’ve never read a book by Maas and can’t comment on any similarities that may or may not be there, but when it comes to both Martin and Tolkien, these books are worlds apart (and I’m not just talking about the worlds of Westeros, Middle-earth and Magic of Lies’ Tir). That isn’t to say Magic of Lies isn’t worthy of space on your bookshelf; I can assure you it is. But while, much like those books, this is an epic fantasy, this novel is its own epic, and one that is unique. So unique, in fact, that I struggle to see Martin or Tolkien’s influence on Gee.
The above isn’t to say the author hasn’t taken any influence from those aforementioned greats; only that in reading Magic of Lies, I can’t tell what books may have influenced her. This isn’t a story about a magical McGuffin, and it isn’t a story about a brutal world where brutal people brutalise each other. This is a great thing; while this novel certainly features tropes that fans of high fantasy will enjoy, like following somebody destined to rule their land, and a protagonist with strange power, among others, Gee has remixed them, ensuring they all feel fresh. Magic of Lies features enough genre hallmarks that readers will find comfort in the author’s world and words, while still creating something that feels different to the other fantasy stories vying for potential readers’ attention. The result is a story that manages to feel timeless while also crafting a contemporary tale.
The novel tells the story of Eirian Altira (one of many beautifully named characters in the book, which alone brings a sense of majesty), a princess returning home after two decades, destined to one day rule her kingdom. During her formative years spent away from the kingdom, Eirian was raised by mages, taught to harness her magical ability in a world that fears magic and the mages who wield it. As the spectre of war lingers, imperilling Eirian and her kingdom, she must also contend with three suitors: her distant love, the captain to whom she is attracted to, and her elven best friend.
That’s a fair amount for Magic of Lies to get through, particularly with its various twists and turns, and the number of characters who populate it. At 396 pages in paperback and hardcover (I don’t have an estimated length for those of you who prefer to pick up your favourite eReader), it isn’t a quick read, but it isn’t particularly long for its genre. The book packs a lot into this space, and none of it feels overwritten; unlike many books in the genre, it doesn’t spend much time luxuriating in the world, describing all its intricacies. Instead, it conveys the information the reader needs to know, peppers in plenty of dialogue, and, most importantly, crafts a wonderful tale. This isn’t a book about action; it is about Eirian and the situation she finds herself in. The book moves at a methodical pace, carefully laying out the story for the reader to follow, yet it feels as though its events fly by.
A large part of this feeling is thanks to the characters and how they are written. Magic of Lies features a large cast of characters—it’s an epic fantasy, after all, and its epicness extends to its cast (the back of the book lists all of them: 57 in total)—all of whom are fully formed. Each character is an absolute delight to read. While at the beginning of this review, I mentioned how distinct this book feels compared to the fantasy greats, the characters in this novel, and in particular, their dialogue, reminds me of a perhaps unlikely author: Jane Austen. Gee has peppered a few more F-bombs into the dialogue than Austen was known for, but the back and forth between these characters catches much of the same wit as Austen’s. Magic of Lies features a fairly high proportion of dialogue, but it flows beautifully, from characters who are all well rounded. Regardless of if a character is actually a human or not, every one of them feels entirely human. This is no more evident than with the novel’s protagonist. Despite being a princess and a mage, at no point does Eirian feel like a Mary Sue. She is flawed; she wrestles with her nature versus the person she wants to be, a fact complicated by a darkness within her, beckoning her to kill.
The darkness Eirian feels within her ensures the reader feels for the character, adding further dimension to her. It also adds depth to the book’s world, with the magic not simply being a power to be wielded by its mage, but something more threatening. The people of Tir fear magic, and through reading Eirian’s journey, it’s easy to see why. While Gee doesn’t spend vast amounts of detail describing the world, in exploring it through the book’s characters, she crafts a thoroughly engaging setting ripe for exploration in not just this book, but its sequels.
The prose throughout Magic of Lies doesn’t get lost in its descriptions, but it conveys everything the reader needs to know, and has been crafted to ensure they know it exactly when they need to. The writing is clean throughout, making it easy to follow along with. At no point is there any confusion about what’s happening on the page, even where there are multiple characters to keep track of. Thanks to this clarity, I finished Magic of Lies in less time than I would most books of its length.
Like many books in the genre, Magic of Lies is the first book in a series: in this instance, it’s Altira, named after Eirian and her family. Magic of Lies is the first book of six, so there’s plenty more story to come. While this novel feels both substantial and complete, in reading it, it is clear that it’s the beginning of a larger epic. If you’re wary of starting a series, you may wish to keep this in mind. However, this is a fantastic start to the Altira series.
Magic of Lies is a wonderful epic fantasy, which offers enough familiarity for fans of the genre while crafting a unique story. With a great plot, characters who truly shine, and a brilliant world, I am looking forward to seeing where the author takes the Altira series next. The second book, Blood of Husks, can’t come quickly enough.
“By the way, the Telmians aren’t leaving. They’re here to stay for a while.”
Everett watched her drain the glass a second time, asking, “And getting drunk is going to help you deal with that fact? It’s only the middle of the afternoon.”
“Oh yes, I’m going to have a few drinks and maybe seduce my best friend or the captain of my guards. Perhaps both. Preferably at the same time. Men get away with taking lovers. So why shouldn’t I?” Leaning on the table, Eirian peered into the jug and sighed. “I’m not in Riane. I know I can’t bed anyone I fancy anymore.”Magic of Lies: Book 1 of the Altira Series, Chapter Twenty-Six
Magic of Lies: Book 1 of the Altira Series was purchased for the purpose of an honest review.
Magic of Lies is available in both physical and eBook forms from book retailers (including—but not limited to—Amazon).
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Interested in purchasing Magic of Lies?
Please find a link below; please note I do not collect any proceeds from the sale.Magic of Lies (The Altira Series Book 1)